By ALAN RIDER Photographs By ANDREW TRAHAN
WHERE THE PAVEMENT ENDS, THE FUN BEGINS WITH THE TRAIL-READY CHEVROLET COLORADO ZR2
If you could design the ultimate off-road vehicle from scratch, you’d probably start by figuring out what you wanted to do with it and then adding all the right hardware—big tires, fender flares, stout skid plates, locking differentials and the like—to achieve your goal.
Which is what a small team of engineers did in creating the brand-new off-road-ready 2017 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 pick-up. Moreover, the Colorado ZR2 will stand apart by offering exceptional on-road ride comfort along with versatile off-road performance—effectively a segment of one.
Like most eagerly awaited new models, this Colorado variant traces its roots to a concept vehicle, the ZR2 prototype revealed at the 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show. The enthusiastic response set in motion an intense developmental timeline. Legendary race truck designer Bryan Kudela, who has decades of experience in off-road vehicle dynamics, developing vehicles for off-road racing, rock crawl-ing and rock racing, was tapped as the consulting engineer on the project.
His background in extreme mobility suspension systems was particularly important as he worked with the group dedicated to developing the Colorado ZR2.
In essence, the Colorado ZR2 had to be a standout performer in mobility—slow-speed crawling over rough terrain—as well as motivity—faster desert running at higher speeds.
The team quickly realized that neither the automaker’s Michigan nor Arizona proving grounds had terrain that could sufficiently challenge the ZR2.
Fortunately, it was nothing that a few months with a rented bulldozer couldn’t fix. A mere 90 days later, the Yuma, Arizona, facility had both a six-mile high-speed desert course, the Saguaro Trail, and a slow-speed rock-crawling layout, Dynamite Hill. Both were direct byproducts of the field testing of the ZR2.
“Every time we were out in the field and came across a piece of terrain that was particularly challenging, I measured it and made a detailed profile,” Kudela said. “Then we just re-created it on the new course at the Yuma Proving Ground.”
The result was a demanding testing regimen that helped replicate the most extreme conditions and use that a potential customer could dish out.
“From Day One, we just started beating the heck out of it to see what it could do,” said Brad Schreiber, vehicle dynamics engineer for the Colorado lineup.
For all its visible off-road hardware, Kudela is quick to point out that the Colorado ZR2 – which will be offered in both extended cab and crew cab body styles—is the real deal.
“This is not just a flashy appearance package—everything we put on it has a purpose,” he said. “We really concentrated on the functional attributes.”
The design and content that separates the ZR2 from the top-of-the-line Colorado Z71 model on which it’s based starts with a more aggressive grille and hood, as well as unique front fascia and modified front and rear bumpers that dramatically improve approach and departure angles. New fender flares cover the large 31-inch tires on 17-inch alloy wheels, while skid plates and rock sliders that protect the sides of the body round out the obvious additions. What’s less visible is the choice of a new 3.6L gasoline V6 that produces a V6 best-in-class 308 horsepower or an available Duramax® 2.8L turbo-diesel that puts out a best-in-class 369 lb.-ft. of torque.
An 8-speed (V6) or 6-speed (diesel) automatic transmission and shift-on-the-fly 4-wheel drive with low-range gearing are matched to the engines. Front and rear electronic locking differentials are standard, as are hill descent control and an Off-Road Mode that alters engine and trans-mission calibrations to suit the terrain.
“When you see the ZR2, it doesn’t look that extreme, yet what you can do with it is pretty amazing,” Kudela said.
In addition to the hardware, Schreiber says it’s the ZR2’s modified suspension, which makes the truck 2 inches taller and gives it about a 3 1/2-inch wider track, that’s the key to its capabilities. More to the point, he says the real secret lies in the truck’s Multimatic®-brand shock absorbers.
This is the first time the supplier’s highly tun-able DSSV (Dynamic Suspensions Spool Valve) technology has been used on an off-road vehicle. The technology is descended from suspensions originally used on Formula One race cars and high-performance street machines like the Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.
“We can actually modify several different zones of the damper’s stroke, so we had the ability to tune the suspension for a wide variety of different situations,” said Schreiber.
The result is a no-compromises truck that’s just as adept at high-speed desert runs, low-speed rock crawling and tight two-tracks as it is on any city street.
“One of the key takeaways from the ZR2 is that the Multimatic dampers allowed us to develop extreme off-road capability without sacrificing on-road ride comfort and handling,” Kudela added.
This wide dynamic range leads to a very practical payoff for truck buyers.
“Most people don’t have the means to buy an off-road-ready vehicle and park it five days a week while they go to work,” Kudela said. “This is a truck they can commute in every day and then jump in on the weekends and go have fun.”
LA Motorsports stunt driver Roger Richman, one of the first people outside of GM to drive the ZR2, summed up his experience this way: “I’m very impressed with the whole vehicle, especially its suspension,” he said. “Whether we were running through sandy washes at full throttle or slowly picking our way along a boulder-strewn trail, it took the toughest punishment we could dish out and it just kept going.”